business strategy | July 02, 2013

Job Interviews Don't Always Determine The Best Hires: Maria Konnikova

Nor sure why that last job interview didn't quite pan out the way you expected? Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind, says it may not have been all your fault. The format of the interview itself, and the hiring bias it creates, could be more to blame for poor hiring choices than we realize. In her New Yorker article, the science speaker explains the shortcomings of the interview process. She also shows us how to think critically about the experience so we can fine-tune it and make it run more smoothly for both the interviewer and the interviewee.

Decontextualization: Interviewers often assume that character traits revealed in the interview process will be indicative of future behavior on-the-job. It's often the case, however, that the questions asked of a candidate only measure their ability to "quickly [come] up with a clever, plausible-seeming solution to an abstract problem under pressure," Konnikova writes. Thus, thinking quickly becomes more important than thinking critically. The entire process also takes place in an environment far removed from the real-life workplace. The respondent's answers are often arbitrary and not necessarily demonstrative of their aptitude for the position.

First impressions trump all: The impression you give off within the first minute (or less) of the interview is more critical than the majority of your answers. Konnikova cites a university study that proved this. In the experiment, one group of interviewers rated candidates after completing a full interview process. A second group was asked to evaluate the same candidates based solely on the first 20 seconds of their interview. "What the researchers found," Konnikova writes, "was a high correlation between judgments made by the untrained eye in a matter of seconds and those made by trained interviewers after going through the whole process." What's more, even if you gave the exact same answers as another candidate, but had somehow given off a bad first impression, it's likely you would be judged lower than the other applicant.

Now that we know where we go wrong as interviewers, how can we correct for this?

Standardize the process:
  Try to ask the same questions, in the same order, for every candidate, Konnikova suggests. This can help to lessen thin-slice judgment (first impression bias) and objectify the answers from all candidates.

Focus on relevant behavioral analysis (past and future): "'Describe a situation where you did well on X or failed on Y' is an example of a past behavioral measure; asking a programmer to describe how she would solve a particular programming task would be a future measure," Konnikova explains. Getting the candidate to complete a task that assimilates their role on-the-job is also helpful. This puts their behaviors and skills into context that directly relates to the job being interviewed for.

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